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How to enhance your engineering degree

What do Calvin classrooms and the workplace have in common? They both require you to use versatile skills, even within a specialized field.


  •   Author: Michal Rubingh interviewed Lillie Spackman
  •   Published: October 2, 2019
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Aspiring engineer Lillie Spackman has taken not only engineering classes but also core classes like psychology and economics. She believes that this well-rounded approach proves to be great preparation for the workplace. And employers agree.

Why did you choose Calvin to study engineering?

After high school, I was looking for schools with engineering programs, and I was attracted to the liberal arts schools. Calvin is one of the few small or medium-sized schools with liberal arts values that has a great engineering program.

It’s also ABET accredited. All ABET engineering programs have standard boxes you need to check. What I’ve found to be unique about Calvin is that you’re checking those boxes well, but you also get the opportunity to take other classes because of the core curriculum. If you’re trying to be an engineer for the world, it can do you a disservice to be stuck in a bubble of math and science, to not understand the world you’re engineering for.

How has a class outside of engineering helped you think more broadly? 

My favorite class that I’ve taken at Calvin is economics 233. It’s focused on exploring the relationship between energy and the economy when viewed through the lens of sustainability. It was cotaught by an engineering professor and an economics professor who were both committed to interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration. Both of them helped give me a picture of what it can look like to use your specialized knowledge in a bigger application than just your own niche.

How have you been able to apply your skills in the real world?

Last summer I worked for a local company, a tank truck manufacturer, as their only design engineer. One of the important parts of engineering is how we use computers and computer-aided drafting (CAD). Most of what I did there was CAD modeling. I was the only person who knew how to open the software out of the 18 people who worked there.

Most of the people who work there are shop technicians who are really good at what they do. We would work with vendors who are also really good at what they do. I was able to lean into my communication skills and different ways of thinking to translate from one thing to another. They let me do a lot of things like testing for pressure vessels, working with welding, and communicating with people. It was a really eclectic experience.

What is SWE, and what is your role in it? 

SWE stands for Society of Women Engineers. And this is my second year as its president.

SWE’s main goals are community building, professional development, and personal development. Engineering is a program clearly separated by class year. So being able to interact across years with other students and share wisdom through SWE is huge. Plus, professionals in the field are willing to come in and give you networking opportunities.

SWE is one of the reasons I’ve stayed in engineering. Being a young woman in the engineering program can be very daunting. To be able to be surrounded by brilliant, intentional young women who are invested in each other in a challenging program has been such a blessing.

  •   Author: Michal Rubingh interviewed Lillie Spackman
  •   Published: October 2, 2019

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